Nov 22, 2012
Dear Brenda McKenzie:
Welcome to Baltimore. In your new job as president of the Baltimore Development Corp., you’re going to face some tough challenges from Day One, on Dec. 7, which could rival the headaches brought on by the Big Dig in your last hometown, Boston. Among the top issues facing the city these days are things that your predecessor, M.J. “Jay” Brodie wrestled with until his last day at the BDC, including:
-The status of the ever-stalled Superblock project: This $150 million redevelopment of an entire city block on the west side has been stymied by half-baked plans, lawsuits, controversy and thin funding strategies for more than a decade. As all of that swirled, the city’s Board of Estimates has voted for six years to grant several extensions to the developers to allow them more time to shore up the project.
In the meantime, the block itself has decayed to the point that it is a colossal civic eyesore. Add to that requests by Lexington Square Partners for a pair of lucrative tax breaks including a $22.1 million payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, that would eliminate tax payments on the development for 20 years, has yet to be presented to the full City Council for consideration and are, the developers say, the lynchpin for moving forward with the project.
Priority status: High.
-Harbor Point: This $1.5 billion development sandwiched between glitzy Harbor East and funky Fells Point is expected to break ground soonest as executives at energy giant Exelon Corp. have said they want their new waterfront headquarters there to open sometime in 2014. The recent controversy over a denial of state Enterprise Zone tax breaks there evaporated this fall after BDC officials re-jiggered a map of the area to include the economic and census figures from Perkins Homes, a public housing project nearby, clearing the way for eligibility.
Next up, City Hall sources say, is a request by the developers, Harbor East Development, for tax increment financing, or TIF, that could total $150 million.
Priority status: High.
-Center city as a vacant wasteland: Drive up Charles Street, the city’s main drag, and you will see dozens of vacant properties where small businesses, law firms, large corporations and restaurants once lent a strong vibe. While some businesses have toughed it out during the recession and the exit by many to new offices on the city’s waterfront, they are hurting financially and need TLC from Baltimore’s chief development official.
Priority status: Red alert.
-The list of TIFs and PILOTS already granted by the BDC to wealthy developers at the expense of the taxpayers: Some of these breaks have not yet been used, such as the $160 million TIF approved by city leaders for the massive Westport development by Patrick Turner. With the $1.2 billion Westport project stalled for about a decade, that TIF is also on ice.
City Councilman Carl Stokes formed a Task Force nearly two years ago to study these tax breaks and formulated a list of recommendations, including placing a deadline to use or lose the breaks. In the meantime, developers continue to approach Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her administration seeking new TIFs and PILOTS for other projects. Studying the Task Force report and meeting with Stokes could be a productive first stop to help jumpstart your learning curve and fire up the calculator.
Priority status: More than a meet and greet.
I could go on, but I don’t want to give you indigestion as you unpack and go in search of the perfect crab cake. (May I suggest Koco’s Pub on Harford Road?)
Readers of this column will no doubt be interested in following your first 100 days in office, so my last recommendation is that you open the BDC board meetings to the press and public once and for all, a failing of the Brodie years despite repeated requests. Such a gesture would allow a breath of fresh air and sunshine into the city’s development world and would allow you to stake your claim as a devotee of transparency, all while earning the $200,000 annual salary bestowed on you by the mayor.
I thank you in advance.
Howard County-based Harkins Builders was recently picked to serve as construction manager for 50-acre The Lutheran Village at Miller’s Grant, a senior continuing care retirement community in Ellicott City.
The job will include building a 30,000-square-foot community center, 215 independent living apartments, and a facility to hold 20 assisted living units and 12 skilled nursing beds. The project will also add new dining and fitness areas at the project, owned by Carroll Lutheran Village. Construction is expected to begin next fall.
Another senior housing development is also under construction on Fitch Avenue in Perry Hall.
Funded through a federal low-income tax credit program, the Village Crossroads I will allow a wide-range of income-eligible seniors to live in 47 of the total 94 units in the suburban community. The owner-operator is Catholic Charities. A second 86-unit senior community that will be entirely subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to open at the site late next year.
In Pikesville, officials at the senior community called North Oaks say they have experienced a 40 percent increase in sales this year compared to the same time last year. In all, the sales figures are the highest since 2006.
Last year, renovations at North Oaks got underway and this year, the development is in the midst of a $4 million fundraising campaign for further upgrades. Renovations include new lighting, paint, floors and windows and the addition of an internet café for residents.
TIDBITS: The five-decade-old Parkville Shopping Center is getting a much-needed facelift. Workers this week were putting the finishing touches on new canopies and signage for the many stores in the 161,734-square-foot plaza in the 7700 block of Harford Road that includes a new Giant Food, Hallmark store, Game Stop, Radio Shock and Rite Aid. Regency Centers is the property manager…Media, Pa.-based Title Alliance Ltd. said this week it plans to open a branch in Parkville next month. The group will be formed through a partnership between Title Alliance of Central Maryland LLC, and ExecuHome Realty. … Plans for elaborate renovations to the beautiful Inn at Government House in Mount Vernon are expected to be revealed this month. They include a five-star inn and a 50-seat restaurant at 1125 N. Calvert St. … He’s all smiles: This week, Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger took time away from the drama in Washington over the approaching fiscal cliff to help open a dental office in Brooklyn Park. Ruppersberger welcomed Kool Smiles at 5700 Ritchie Highway… Here’s a deal: Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is offering two hours of free parking for holiday shoppers over this weekend and again Dec. 20-25. There will be 1,735 parking meters decked with red “free parking” bags in Catonsville, Towson, Parkville, Essex, Pikesville, Arbutus, Stoneleigh, and Dundalk. “Every one of these free parking spaces is near great locally owned shops and restaurants,” Kamenetz said.